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Topics - Melinglor

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Design, Development, and Gameplay / My thoughts about reward mechanics
« on: November 18, 2007, 01:14:33 am »
Elsewhere on the site I recently saw the question raised: "If people want to engage in particular behaviors in their roleplaying, why do they need a reward system to incentivise them to do it?"

This is a fairly periodic query, and frequent criticism of those who emphasize reward systems. I thought I'd share what I personally enjoy about dedicated reward systems in the hope that it might shed some light on their purpose.

See, I've had the experience, time and again, of wanting to do things in a game that go against the grain of the rules, and/or what the other players are pursuing. Like, "Hey, I'm gonna make a guy who's not very strong or tough, but he's a charming devil, and manipulates others to get his way." And the other players are like, "That's nice, we'll be over here slaughtering orcs by the truckload, while you miss two out of every three swings." And everyone would get better at the slaughtering, while I wouldn't get much of anywhere, 'cause while I might get a "good roleplaying" bonus here and there, everyone else is racking up piles of XP from their massive kill count and E criticals.

Now, nothing in the game prevented me from pursuing what I wanted. There's some manner of system support for such actions, though not nearly as much as for the others' goals. And with sufficient GM and fellow-player support I could pursue off-the-beaten-path goals in a satisfying way. That's all cool. But if the reward system doesn't back me up, then it puts a damper on the play I want. Not necessarily killing it or ruining the fun, but any fun will be had by overcoming the friction of reward un-support.

But isn't the play itself the reward? Sure, it can be, and that's probably why I've often pursued that un-rewarded play often. But see,the thing is that RPG reward systems aren't pure, enjoyable-in-themselves rewards.You don't turn in your XP for candy. You turn them in for increased effectiveness in the game. So if you're playing to your eccentric, unsupported goal, instead of the systemically central one, you're not (unless the GM just likes what you're doing and just sorta gives you the XP anyway) gaining effectiveness at the same rate as other players. And, especially if increased effectiveness is needed to better pursue your goal, that can suck.

So being rewarded for my preferred play isn't an incentive to do so (I already have that; it's the desired play itself). It's a resource for pursuing that play. Some games are pretty specific with that resource, having a dedicated reward system for the kind of play the game is designed for. (Like, D&D's calibrated for defeating Challenges, and Dogs in the Vineyard toward complications and difficult choices, therefore the former grants increased challenge-beating oomph while the latter piles on more life-complicating traits.)  Which is great if everyone's on board for that particular kind of play. If the group's more diverse, I'd prefer something more flexible. The Shadow of Yesterday basically has customizable rewards that allow each player to design their own experience sytem. You want to get XP for killin' stuff? Great! Key of Bloodlust. XP for pursuing the unapproachable princess? Bing! Key of Unrequited Love. Machiavellian scheming? Key of Power. Avenging your father's murder? Key of Vengeance. Or you can buy extra Keys for infinite combinations.

I'm unaware of any other game with that degree of flexibility. D&D has its Story Awards as an alternative or supplement to the monster-killin' awards, but I find them terribly vague and of limited use. Aside from mission-based goals, they all say to me merely, "GM, wing it." Which is difficult, 'cause the GM isn't the participant who's invested in a given PC's "thing"--the PC's player is. And the player and GM may have difficulty communicating how to address that "thing." Whereas if the player can set a secific area of focus (like, "political scheming--on!") communication can be more clear and satisfaction of that goal more secure.

Anyone know of other games that address this? And how do the range of possibilities map to folks' experience and play preferences?


Design, Development, and Gameplay / [D&D 3.5] Tactics, people! Tactics!
« on: October 26, 2007, 09:29:44 pm »
I played in my regular D&D 3.5 game last week. We had a lot of fun, but it also gave me a lot to think about.

First off, we had a nice beefy combat, which is heartening as it may indicate that the GM is in fact listening to people's input regarding what they'd like to see more of in the game (which has been an issue in the past). My brother and I had both requested “more fighting” (well, to be precise, it was more like “in the absence of engaging player-empowered story, more fighting”), and Joe delivered. Cool. At first I thought we were in for another limp session, retrieving an item from a friendly wizard. But then a bunch of evil magical creatures attacked the wizard's tower, and it was ON!

There was a Succubus, who set an Ettin on us, and then when we killed the Ettin and pursued her, she summoned a Vrock, which is a big vulture Demon. And we kicked their asses.

In ons sense, the fight was pretty tough. Both the Succubus and Vrock have hella resistances and immunities, and were shrugging off a lot of what we threw at 'em. On the other hand, all the monsters dropped pretty easily, if sometimes slowly, and I didn't really feel properly challenged.

Our party's big, seven total, all level 6, consisting of a Warforged Barbarian, Changeling Ranger, Human Fighter/Mageslayer, monkey-man Scout, Human Cleric/Stormlord, Human something-or-other (she won't tell anyone; seems to have rogue-like abilities with some spellcasting power), and Human Warmage (that's me). But it was more than that. The demons in question are higher Challenge Rating than our level, and should have had us jumping. But the DM just didn't utilize them very well. The Ettin charged straight at us, we hit it a bunch, it fell down. Later the demons stood in place and attacked until beaten. The Monster Manual entries even have a wealth of tactics info to be mined, none of which was used and most of which flatly contradicted by Joe's tactics. Things like, “Ettins prefer to ambush their victims rather than charge into a straight fight.” The Succubus is supposed to be cowardly and underhanded, and try to embrace enemies to drain energy. Nothing like that happened. Hell, I even forgot the Vrock had wings. An Aerial charge with Power Attack could have really fucked us up. It would've been awesome.

I also had a weird vibe amongst my teammates, too. Everyone in our group likes to talk big about balls-to-the-wall combat, playing smart and kicking ass. But when we finally do get a nice challenge to sink our teeth into, everyone's playing sort of obliviously and simply, with no thought to teamwork or anything. Like, when the Ettin charged, it caught our Ranger off by himself. As we ran up to help him, I cast a Fireball at the giant and used Bracers of Entangling Blast for less damage, but an Entangling effect (half speed, penalty to attack and defense) so the Ranger could get away before the Ettin clobbered him. And he did, but then two other guys ran right up to the range of the Ettin's clubs. They didn't even get to attack; they spent all their turn running. All they did was set themselves up to be pounded, harder than if they'd hung back and let the Ettin close to them, and so my Entangling Blast was kinda wasted. Sure, it got a good reaction around the room as my first time using it, lots of “cool!” and “good one, Joel.” But it was kinda hollow, since it didn't really help.

There was stuff like that throughout the session. Like, I had my guy call out to the Ranger for info on the Ettin (i.e. Have him make a Knowledge: Nature check for strengths and weaknesses). Not only did the Ranger not have any ranks in Knowledge: Nature (!) but everyone was just kinda like, “it's an Ettin, just hit it.” Well excuse me, but I don't know an Ettin from Adam, and my reading of D&D is that without K: Nature I'm supposed to assume my character doesn't either.

The most awkward tactical moment came when I cast a Flaming Sphere and rolled it into the Vrock's space. It wasn't always enough to overcome the Vrock's Fire Resistance, but I was dealing a bit of damage most turns, in addition to pounding it with more spells. Sound strategy, right? Well, the DM ruled that the sphere was abstructing view of the Vrock. So ranged attackers had to move to one side in order to shoot it. And everyone started complaining that my sphere wasn't doing any good and was in fact hampering us and I should dispell it. I was like, “hell, no, we need all the damage we can get.” I eventually managed to convince the group that no, the Sphere wasn't actually hindering us, since the shooters were able to get clear shots from the side (at no time had the sphere prevented a shot or caused it to miss), and it WAS doing a small amount of damage. So the Sphere was filed under “useful, but annoying.”

The whole evening was some kind of Bizarro experience. These guys all talk tough about tactics and action, and I always felt like the odd man out, creating friction on the game with my desire for Story, Story, Story. But once I relaxed and decided to embrace the action-fest, it was like I was almost the only tactically-thinking player in the whole room, GM included. Nobody was going “hey! Stop thinking tactically!” but everyone kinda seemed like like tactics were a new, strange and confusing idea that they weren't quite sure how to deal with.

I'm ripping on the players pretty hard, so let me take time out and stress that I did have fun, moreso than I have in a long time in that campaign. It was just kinda. . .lacking, like a friendly basketball game that your team played shit on. . .you go home having enjoyed yourself, but the back of your mind all the shit that should have gone down better is nagging at you.

Also, full disclosure: I myself got a total pass from the GM, when I was contemplating using Shocking grasp just moments after establishing through my Knowledge: Planes check that the demons were immune to Electricity. He warned me and I changed my tactic. So it wasn't a case of “everyone's dumb, I'm smart”. . .it was more like tactics in general weren't rewarded around the table, through positive or negative reinforcement. The only exception I can think of is maybe sending our Ranger to the tower when we spotted the Demons, to warn the Wizard of the attack. Which took him out of the fight for several rounds, but brought with him the firepower of the Wizard. So there was a nice cause and effect thing there. But I'm not convinced anyone was thinking, “hey, let's sacrifice several rounds of Ranger power to gain a couple of rounds of Wizard power!” or that the GM was thinking in terms of “reward decision with tactical benefits.” It almost seems incidental that the action helped us in the fight.

So I dunno. I'm not sure if I'm mistaken about the players wanting tactical challenges, or if they need some time to adjust to the possibilities now that we're finally pouring on the action, or what. All comments/questions welcome. At the base of it I'm just wanting to reflect on the experience and see what I can come up with to apply to future games with this group.


Hi, guys! I'm looking for some character-building advice for a D&D guy of mine that I just put through an in-character revelation. I'm looking for a way to express the character shift in a badass way.

The skinny: Telar is a Warmage, taken in slavery when the Red Wizards of Thay razed his village, and inducted into their mage-soldier corps and molded into a weapon of fiery death. He took the opportunity of a solo mission to desert, and had been begun searching for the groundswell support to oppose the Wizards when he (and the other PCs) were inducted into a Supersecret organization as Chosen Ones prophesied to save the universe from some calamity to appear presently. He had been unsuccessful in his attempts to convince the organization that the Red Wizards are the real threat to deal with, when he went back in time.

The party was hurled by a dungeon artifact back to the bygone Golden Age of Magic, when the Gods were more robust, and Arcane energies were potent and volatile. To his dismay, Telar found that in this era too there existed a vile Magistocracy, whose powerful elite lived in floating cities among the clouds and visited casual destruction and misery on those below.

And then he got hopped up on Halfling shrooms.

He was searching for some good liquor and settled on a mysterious brew from a Halfling caravan. Next thing he knew, the world was a magical spinning place of color and wonder (there might have been singing involved). The morning after, I was thinking to myself, what if this little diversion actually provoked an Epiphany in the poor boy? And then I had it: for the first time, Telar actually experienced Maaagic. He casts spells, sure, but he's never known the well of beauty and mystery from which it sprang. Now he knows the true nature of the Arcane which he was denied by the power-hungry Red Wizards: it is Creation, the thread that runs through all life and indeed, all that is.

So that's where we stand. I'm wanting to play it sort of distant and otherworldly, touched, if you will, possessed of new wisdom but unnerving even his closest friends. I'm not giving up Telar's mission to topple Thay, though. Rather his new perspective makes him more dangerous than he ever was as a mere disgruntled artillery grunt. The group's about to return to their present, and I'd love to work this in as Telar taking back with him some Power before which even the Red Wizards tremble. Sort of Enlightenment with teeth.

So the challenge is to represent this all mechanically in D&D. Right now I've got a Level 6 Human Warmage with Able Learner, Combat Expertise, Improved Trip, and Improved Init, armed with a Flaming Burst sickle and Bracers of Entangling Blast. I'd appreciate any build proposals to do “mysterious and loopy, but dangerous.” I've got my eye on Truenamer, descriptively, but haven't been able to check out the mechanics yet. I'm entertaining simple class change as well as the possibility of a Rebuild Quest, especially if the latter can be spun as some sort of Promethean theft of the Mysteries of the Cosmos. Feel free to suggest classes/feats/whatever from any and all books, but be prepared to explain if I'm unfamiliar. I'd like to see a lot of funky magic options, though keeping some blasting power and martial capability is preferable.

Thanks in advance for the help!


I've been noticing an odd phenomenon in my D&D Campaign. The group's at a pretty low level, but with increased XP rewards, so as to experience relatively quick growth and an array of power levels. We started at Level "2 1/2" (4500 EX), and the party's now level 3.

So what I'm noticing is this: the PCs nearly always make their saving throws, but often fail on attack rolls or skill checks. Like, I'll be poring through the Monster Manual for interesting encounters, and going, "Cool! the Satyr charms travelers with his pipes, that'll be a fun and interesting event." And then the Satyr uses the Charm Person effect on the pipes (the one that the MM thinks is worth doubling the CR for), and EVERYONE saves. Hell, it's only DC 13, so not surprising. Then ditto the Ghost's devastating gaze or whatever, ditto the Dryad's Deep Slumber and Suggestion, and so on, and so on.

Then on the other side of things, the players often miss on their attack rolls. Which is, y'know, they're level 3 and a, sure, but it doesn't feel too heroic when ocer and over again it's whiff, whiff. I tryto describe it well, like "You and the wolf are a tangle of blade and fur and claws, and you just can't land a solid blow." But it starts to wear. And then when someone has a plan, like "I'll try to talk to them and get them on our side!" and they fail their Diplomacycheck, it's once again deflating.

All this has the effect that we're telling a story of cool things that almost happened. The cool thing inherent in the PC's action or the monster's power doesn't actually manifest itself in the fiction. Nobody's going to tell the story of "that time when the Satyress totally charmed Hung out into the forest for a frenzied love tryst and we had to get him back." Instead it's "That Satyress who, I guess, in theory, COULD have charmed someone, but it didn't work on us." Or "That time when our Druid might just have manifested his awesome Nature Powers to calm down the wolves that were attacking us, but it didn't work." Which just feels kinda lame.

In a "real" story, this would never happen. Obi-Wan would never fail to mypnotize the Stormtroopers. Han Solo would never fail to get the Hyperdrive kicked in in time to ditch the Imperials. At least, not the first time. In Empire, Han does indeed have quite some difficilty losing his pursuers, and indeed keeping his ship flying at all. That's fine. Tension, Setbacks, Complications. . .these are all great storytelling tools. But it strikes me that the first time a cool and defining thing happens in a story, it generally works. It has to. Or else that first impression is gonna stick and you're gonna be telling "The story about that Smuggler Guy who can't even outrun a bunch of Imperial Cruisers."*

I can only think of a couple of games that address this. Wushu, from what I've heard, employs a system of "everything you say happens, you just don't win the fight until the pacing mechanics tell you so." And Capes does this as well: Not only doyou not narrate the resolution of a conflict ("Kill Spider-Man") until the mechanics tell you it's decidin' time, but when you narrate individual actionsyou're free to describe your super-cool awesome maneuver in full and triumphant detail--only, if you're not ahead on the conflict, your opponent gets to narrate a reversal. So like: "Dr. Doom  throws the switch and Reed is bathed in black energy. 'All your simplistic planning did not account for the effect of my Quantum Nega-Ray, Richards!'" THEN: "As the beam saps his strenght, Reed simply mouths, 'now, Sue.' The invisible Mrs. Richards hits the shutdown switch and surrounds Doom in a force bubble. 'As always, Victor, you forget the Fantastic Four are a team,' Reed replies."

See, it's fine if the effect is countered or dispelled. But it's a crappy story if the effect doesn't exist in the first place, is negated right out of the gate. Of cours that's exactly what you would want as a real person. But it's death for a story. When your opposition's powers are impotent, they start to look like incompetents, no real threat. And when the heroes' efforts consistently fail, they start to feel like bumbling fools themselves.

Thoughts? Objections? Solutions?


Hi! I've had this little idea kicking around in my brain for a month or so, and I'm looking to explore whether it can gro to be a big idea. Maybe even a whole-game idea. So this thread is an exploration of that.

I first detailed this idea (stolen in its essential form from Vincent Baker. actually) in this thread. I've been fiddling with it a bit, and I think I've come up with a rough model good enough to take a test drive.

So the basic premise/goal is this: to create a combat-centric RPG with meaningful and fun tactical options that doesn't rely on D&D's movement-and-positioning Battle Grid model. More abstract, more descriptive, and very quick and high-energy.

So this means:

  • Tactics that rely on broad, abstract categories of choices instead of an exhaustive list of maneuvers
  • Greatly abstracting positioning and location, so you can meaningfully position yourself relative to other characters without relying on grid position or measuring movement
  • Results that are easily and quickly interpretable so fights are like "Hut! Ho! Hah!"

Here's my draft. Consider it a mock-up to test the concept, not a final model or anything:

Attributes: I came up with four: Presence, Wits, Deftness, and Brawn. You get, say, nine points do distribute, minimum 1, maximum 4.

There'll probably be other traits and skills and stuff, but for now let's leave it at that, and focus on combat. Other actions, such as persuasion using Presence plus Diplomacy or whatever, will be resolved in a straight test, with modifiers for circumstance and stuff. But combat has its own system.


You've got three combat stats: Attack (ATT), Defense, (DEF) and Maneuver (MAN). You choose your fighting style by applying an attribute to each Combat Stat. Not all can be applied to all, and you can't use the same attribute for all three. Right now I'm thinking Brawn or Deftness for ATT, Brawn, Deftness or Wits for DEF, and Deftness or Wits for MAN. I considered allowing Presence for ATT or MAN (like, an intimidating attack or "outta my way!" jockeying around), but for the mement I'm dropping it. It'd be nice and symmetrical to have three for each Com Stat, but it seems tenuous and I do like having a completely noncombat stat to allow some focus on other RP/storytelling areas.

Now, when you fight, you apply dice equal to the relevant Attribute to each Combat Stat, plus any extras from other abilities or equipment. Then you assign a pol of "free dice" to any stat(s) you want. Right now I'm using a pool of three. HEre's where you strike the tactical balance you want between different battlefield priorities. You also attach a goal each round to ATT and MAN (your goal for DEF is simply "don't get hurt," or more precisely, "oppose your opponent's ATT goal.").

So each round, all combatants declare goals, then assign dice, and roll! ATT opposes DEF and vice versa, and MAN opposes MAN. I want it quick, so I'm going success-counting instead of addition. Also in the interest of quickness, I'm using D6's with 1s counting as "success" (which is made even quicker and cooler by all those "Skull Dice" I own). So more 1s on ATT than opposing DEF, and you injure the guy or whatever. if MAN beats opposing MAn, you accomplish your maneuver.

FOR ATT goals, all I've come up with is Kill, Knock Out, and Disarm. (for Health or Wounds or whatot, for now I'm doing a simple "three strikes and you're out.") For MAN goals, I came up with: Guard, MPass, Corner, Escape, and Flank. The first four form opposig pairs--if someone successfully Guards your target (enemy combatant or item or doorway or whatever) you've got to make a Pass maneuver to reach it. If someone Corners you, you can make NO Maneuver except Escape (you can still attack and defend and stuff). Flanking is merely positioning for a better attack. . .so the amount of points you win by would be dice on your next ATT roll.

I'm envisioning lots of great descriptive text Cronar lunges to the throne, twisting cunningly like a jungle cat past the Undead guard, to plunge his sword into the vile sorceror's heart!" Also, note that combat is 100% simultaneous. How's it look? Fun? Mechanically sound? Totally fucked up? Looking forward to comments.

I also ran a sample combat to test drive the thing, which I'll post later today.


Here's the latest session of my D&D campaign; previous play report here.

Session Five: Dungeon!

OK, this was our first "Dungeon Crawl. . .a pretty simple one, just a hallway and a couple of side rooms, with the Elven Shrine at the ende (not technically part of the "dungeon," since the Gnolls couldn't unlock the mystic seals to get into it. This was also the first time I got to use my Dungeon Tiles. Yay cool toys!

Before the session everyone had some leveling up to do, which seemed to me the perfect time to introduce my proposed modification to the Skill system. As discussed on this board awhile back, I definitely wanted to fold Hide and Move Silently into Sneak, and Spot, Search and Listen into Notice. I proposed that, and everyone was enthusiastically approving. I proposed a bunch of other possible combos, and a couple, like Ride and Handle Animal, were shot down, we did go with Open lock and Disable Device, and the most ambitious of all: Jump, Tumble and Balance into Acrobatics, and Jump, CLimb and Swin into Athletics. I may be overdoing it, and unbalance something-or-other, but so far it's cool, everyone's got a bit more skill economy (especially the Monk), and now Shirley's Druid has a rank in Climbing, Jumping AND Swimming, instead of just Swimming.

So we're talking about a small underground complex--living quarters and a storeroom--that was overrun by a small band of Gnolls, a splinter group from a larger tribe. The complex is just a simple tunneling exercise. . .basically just a place to stay until the Shrine was prepared (why just "until" will become clear later. . .). Side question: I put a lot of thought into everything being internally consistent--what the Dungeon's for, what it contains and how it was designed, why the Gnolls are there, and so forth. Is this really worth it? It doesn't seem likely that the players are going to go "Cool, that Dungeon was entirely logical and internally consistent! Good job, Joel!" They probably won't notice much at all. And regarding the Gnolls, well, they're not likely to extract their life story or anything, especially since nobody even speaks Gnoll. It seems like this sort of prep is more a negative reward thing--if you don't do it, players are likely to start going, "this doesn't make any sense!" and start grumbling on you. anyone have any experience with this phenomenon?

Anyway, so the PCs are sneaking into this Gnoll lair, unaware of what awaits them. Actually, I made a last-minute decision regarding that--last session when they had a middle of the night encounter, and I asked if they wanted to get up early and arrive in daylight, or rest more fully for spell recovery, and arrive afte rnightfall? Well, my original thought was: Gnolls are nocturnal, in the day they can catch them sleeping, at night they're aware and ready. But then I further extrapolated--wait, if they're nocturnal, then at night they go out hunting. So the heroes encountered a token force left behind while the chief and his best warriors are out procuring food.

The players got to make use of their dungeon-y skills like Sneak and Search and stuff, as well as encounter the combat system in a bit more detail than before. They spied on a couple of Gnolls in the storeroom, and ambushed and beat them easily. They searched the room, which was piled high with Gnoll plunder (mostly junk and refuse), for anything valuable. Shirley got the highest Search result and found a shiny ring of fine Elvish make in the muck (A ring of Protection, chosen with her AC in mind). Her response was interesting: "I pocket the ring before anyone can see what I've found." This didn't really play to anything about her character personality or alignment, but was just a bit of meta-level playfulness that was kind of amusing. And funny enough, she's now walking around with +1 AC in her pocket that she could be getting some use out of!

At the living quarters, they encountered as barred door and growling sounds behind it. It was funny, while the guys were all debating how to get in, starting to settle on kicking it in, when Shirley goes: "Oh, c'mon, guys, it's easy, you just slide your sword in, and push the bar up!"

And so they did, and busted in and wasted the Gnoll warrior inside. Actually, Shirley kind of called a halt as they were moving in to attack. . .she said "Jeez, we're really violent. These Gnolls have never done anything to us, we've always attacked them on sight. What's so bad about Gnolls again?" I responded, well, they're pretty vicious, and they do like to eat Elves. They've given your village a pretty hard time." She asked, "couldn't we try to reason with them?" I said, "well, it would be difficult to comunicate because you don't speak their language. . ." at which point Shirley entirely abandoned "conscientious voice of reason" stance, joked "well, if we can't understand 'em they're obviously talking bad about us," and everyone attacked.

I kinda feel bad because I flubbed my chance to convey that there are more options than "kill on sight." I was just about to. . .I was gonna say something like ". . .but you could try to get through to them somehow" when Shirley cut me off. Hell, maybe I'd have even let her try a Wild Empathy check (a bit of a stretch, but hey). Oh well, hopefully I'll get a chance to explore this some more with everybody. I DO plan to delve more into WHY the Gnolls are vicious and cruel killers and all, since "They're just evil" doesn't cut it for me. "Result of a disastrious magical experiment is my current fave.

The group did face an interesting dilemma after that though--a couple of female Gnolls, backed defensively into a corner and guarding their pups. There was some debate over whether they'd have to kill them just to protect themselves, but I made it clear that they were clearly defensive and making no moves to attack. They decided that killing the Wimmen and Children was father than they were willing to go, and moved on.

So they unlocked the Shrine with the Crystal Crest and their Royal blood. Inside there was a pedestal around which four Elven ghosts appeared. They were the contingent of the deposed king's personal guard who were dispatched to safely hide the bastard twins. After doing so they came and build this shrine, and sacrificed their lives to safeguard its secrets, and the secrets of the hidden twins. So they went over the whole "this is your destiny" thing, and told the twins that the kingdom was doomed in the hands of the Usurper, and only they could save it, and all that. They entrusted the Crest to the Monk as the "Heart of the Kingdom" and a vial of earth to the Druid as "the Heart of the Land," and said that both must be made whole for the nation to be saved. They also handed over the royal Scepter, to keep safe for their sister the Princess, or failing that to be taken up by one of them (This would have been a whole lot more interesting if Tommy was able to play right now, but i'm trying to roll with the punches). I'm not sure if I liked this while thing; it IS pretty railroady, but I felt it was a decent Fantasy hook to get the plot rolling; all the player choice and cool plot surprises can come along later as the PCs decide what to DO with this divine mission.

I had this crazy idea that, besides being information dispensers, maybe they could get the head ghost to accompany them, inhabiting the scepterand appearing to aid them in dire need. But I had no idea how to lead to that; i wanted it to be a reward for creative roleplay in the scene or whatever, but no ideas of what line of inquiry would lead to it. When they jokingly told the ghost he could zap the Gnome who was annoying him, I almost had him respond "I WILL smite an enemy if you wish it." But I got interrupted and the moment passed. Oh well, maybe something will come up before they leave the shrine.

Anyway, they left the chamber to see. . .the entire Gnoll hunting party returning from their hunt! Battlestations! (And we left it there since it was getting late. Fun cliffhanger.) Perhaps if they retreat to the chamber they can get the ghost to help or something.


Hi! It's been awhile since I've posted on my budding D&D campaign; the first session report can be found here. Since then, we've had roster changes and some mechanical tweaking, and though there are some rough spots, I'd say we're going along nicely.

Let me break it down:

First, for our second session the other two players got to join in (they were around for chargen but not for the first play session). That makes:

Erik, veteran D&Der who I've played with in the past, playing a male Half-elf Monk, Hung.

Shirley, who's never played before, playing a male Half-elf Druid, Shirlak.

Eriks (that's right, no typo; it's Latvian), Shirley's boyfriend who played a freeform D&Dish thing at a camp or something some years back. He's got a female Gnome Sorceror/Rogue (name unrevealed, called "Gnome", or "the gnome").

Scotty, new to tabletop gaming but with a CRPG background, playing a male Dwarf barbarian, Scotti.

Tommy, a 15 year old (the others are all twentysomethings) who's played D&D with his dad and friends for several years, and is playing a female Elf Warrior (though possibly switching to Swashbuckler) named Silence Estelle.

Second, I arrived at a system for disbursing Action Points, a mechanic I and several players were interested in. I knicked it from Bill White over at Story-Games, just read AP for EP throughout the quote:

Short version: Gain AP (commensurate with risk or personal sacrifice) for acting within your own or adjacent alignments, at level-up, if you've acted more on an adjacent one you shift over. Act on your opposite alignment and either: accept a penalty, or renounce your alignment then and there as your char has a huge change of heart. And I like his alignment descriptions, D&D is often hard to make "real people sense" of, that way.

So! Here's how it went (I'm gonna skim a lot, to cover the major points of the last three sessions):

First session, we opened with Shirlak, Hung and the gnome traveling through the woods to Shirlak's village. Shirlak and Hung had just met and realized they were twin brothers, one raised among humans and one among elves. So off to Shirl's elven mentor for some answers. I worked the new players in with a combat encounter--the party came upon Silence and Scotti as they were getting attacked by an Assassin Vine. After fighting off the killer plant, everyone did the intro thing and teamed up; Silence is looking for her half-brothers, but so far the PCs are cluseless about each others' identities. On the way to the village, they encountered a couple of Gnolls laying in ambush. They dispatched one, and Hung intimidated the other one into fleeing. Silence took a shot at it as it ran off, and Hung berated her for attacking needlessly. They arrived at the village and we called it a night.

Behind the curtain:

I started to get the APs flowing pretty quick; after the vine fight the gnome was grabbing all the loot (some valuables from the plant's last victim) and Shirlak told Silence, "hey, the Gnome's taking your stuff." And sicced his goat companion on the Gnome. The Gnome retaliated with a chill touch on the goat. They each got APs for playing to Neutral Good and Chaotic Neutral, respectively. Then in the Gnoll fight, when Silence tried to whack a fleeing enemy and Hung scolded her by invoking the dictum of the Great Saint, I gave Tommy and Erik points for Chaotic Evil and Lawful Neutral. it seemd to work well as a cool way of reinforcing the fun of characters with beliefs and personality in conflict. Lots of big grins from folks rewarded for stirring the pot.

An interesting issue emerged: When the gnoll fight came up, Shirley was kind of like: another fight? Why? I had tried to explain that Gnolls are menacing these woods a lot, but still she had a hard time seeing why they should be fighting these things. She decided Shirlak would hang back and see what happens; Hung followed her lead, and that led to the "intimidate into fleeing" thing. I thought it was fun and constructive; it helped establish that conflicts can be solved by means other than killing, but I was worried about the impression I was making, especially on new gamers like Shirley. To my mind, both fights served a purpose: the first was a party-bringer-together-er (less cliched than a Tavern meet, at least) and a "hey, there's dangerous stuff in the woods" signal. And the Gnolls were meant to establish that there is indeed a Gnoll problem, and set up for future Gnoll encounters. But to Shirley at least, all that stuff was in one ear and out the other, and the encounters just looked like "GM says fight now" hoops to jump through. (By contrast, Scotty thought it was a blast, and wished the fights were a bit tougher.) There were more developments on this issue in coming sessions, but I'll leave it right here for now.

So that's Session 2; I'm out of time so I'll leave off here. I'll post on the other sessions when I can but feel free to comment on this one in the meantime! :)


I've been thinking for a couple of weeks about tactical gaming and what kind of tactics i'd like to have in a game. What I wanted was basically an engine that was primarily descriptive, and had tactical depth without the positioning and spatial measurement focus of D&D's grid-based system.

This is what I got. Ripped from Vincent Baker:

You've got three pools: Attack, Defense, and Maneuver. You've got X number of dice that you can assign to the different pools, like 3 to Att, 4 to Def and 2 to Man. And then you'd have dice from various sources that would be limited to specific slots, like 2D from your sword would have to go in Att or Def, your Nimbleness 1D trait would go in Def or Man, and so on. You'd assign and roll each round, then interpret the results however, I haven't worked that out yet. You could even color code the dice and roll them in a big Yatzhee cup for secrecy.

I think the key bit is the MAN pool (Heh, that either sounds really awesome or really wrong). You could use maneuver for all kinds of things: Reach the docks before the ship sails, catch the fleeing villain, flee yourself, maneuver for advantage (and bonus to next attack), guard an ally from attack, or whatever. Hmm, maybe it would be good to expand that concept and have you attach a specific goal or intent to every pool, like Kill, wound, disarm, intimidate, etc. for ATT. Anyway, that's the gist of the thing.

What I like is that it's got a single unifying system that can produce a lot of different results. No laundry list of Charge and Bull Rush and Trip and Grapple with their own little rules. You weight your pools toward the tactical area(s) you want and declare your intent. In fact, you can have several distinct intents (Shield the young Prince from the assassin  AND slash that motherfucker's arm to match the wound he gave you so long ago) and weight your dice between them. Y'know, I'm not thinking of a lot of meaningful goals possible for the DEF pool, but maybe that's OK. It increases the risk management facet of the system. You can try to shield the Prince and get in your revenge wound, but will that leave you enough defense dice? Will you risk wounding or death to fulfil both revenge and honor? Or will you protect yourself and sacrifice one of your goals?

And incidentally, that's one place my system differs from Vincent's: He has you roll dice, THEN assign the numbers. Which has its own advantages: he's working with very few total dice in Mechaton and rolling beforehand allows you to make meaningful decisions. (Maybe I could add special abilities that would let you roll then assign a die or two.) I, however, am going for a slightly different effect: I want to balance the tactical choice with the element of risk--you make the best possible decision, but you still don't know how it'll turn out. Risk management.

Thoughts? Does this sound fun? Too simple/too complex? Or just right? Does it provide for A) sufficiently meaningful tactical options and B) combat that's easy to marry to descriptions?


Awhile back, over in Sett's Gurps flamebait, Jimbob quoted this piece by GURPS Editor Sean Punch. I thought it was interesting food for thought, but didn't want to try to tackle the topic in the midst of that particular clusterfuck. So here, in its own thread, is Sean's essay:

Relying on defaults -- whatever the game system calls them -- is rarely fun. In GURPS, I hint that certain skills are necessary for adventurers, true action heroes or not, to keep the story flowing without annoying breaks caused by PCs being incompetent at tasks that adventure fiction commonly treats as "everyman" skills:
  • Carousing, Diplomacy, Fast-Talk, or Interrogation -- Eventually, everybody wants to interrogate NPCs. I'm generous about what skills work, but some skill is required.

  • Climbing, Hiking, and Stealth -- The party is only as good at these things as its worst party member, and nearly every party has to move around as a unit at some point.

  • Driving or Riding -- Travel is vital to adventure, and while "every hero can drive/ride a horse" is often assumed, it isn't automatic in games that have skills for these things.

  • First Aid -- Effective bandaging isn't an unskilled activity, AD&D notwithstanding. Non-action heroes often want to do this to "contribute" to party combat effectiveness, so they especially need this skill.

  • Gesture -- Sooner or later, communication without making a sound will be vital to almost any party's survival.
  • Observation, Scrounging, or Search -- Noticing interesting things takes training, and finding clues and useful items is so central to adventures that no PC should lack at least basic training here.

  • Savoir-Faire or Streetwise -- Everybody came from somewhere. It's passing annoying when a player just assumes that her PC would "get on with folks in her element" without having any practical social skills to back up the assumption.
I further suggest -- strongly -- that action heroes have this list as well:
  • Axe/Mace, Broadsword, Knife, Shortsword, or Staff -- Wielding a stick, knife, or heavy tool to any real effect requires practice. These common improvised weapons are not idiot-proof, trivial, or safe to use without training.

  • Beam Weapons, Bow, Crossbow, or Guns -- However easy "point and shoot" looks, it's quite tough in reality. No credible action hero lacks competency at all ranged combat.

  • Boxing, Brawling, or Karate -- Fisticuffs are the worst place to be untrained. Your fists are the only weapons you always have, so learn to use them.

  • Forced Entry -- No, it isn't easy to kick in a door. Actually, unless you know how, you'll hurt yourself.
  • Holdout -- "Concealable" equipment only works if you have skill at concealment, and frustratingly few players realize this.
  • Judo, Sumo Wrestling, or Wrestling -- The number of people who think they should be able to grab others automatically is astounding. In fact, this is a difficult feat, trickier than hitting people, and absolutely requires training.

  • Throwing -- Whether you're tossing spare magazines to friends or grenades at enemies, this is a trained skill, so it pays to know it.

I think that players would be far less unhappy about surprises if more GMs made lists like this and did everything possible to get players to take them seriously. A PC with Brawling, Fast-Talk, Forced Entry, Holdout, Knife, Scrounging, Stealth, and Wrestling should be able to make and conceal a shiv, overpower a guard, steal his clothes, sneak away from the scene, talk his way past the other guards, and leave through an inadequately bolted back door.[/COLOR]

At first I was reading along and nodding, then I got the end and went "Huh?" I was right there with the opening premise, but it seems to me that Sean's conclusion is backwards. I look at the concept, "Adventure heroes should be broadly comepetent in a certain range of skills," (my paraphrase) and conclude, "Yeah! Damn right! So let's design a game about 'Adventure heroes' so that there's a baseline competence level right from the start!" Sean looks at the concept, "Adventure heroes should be broadly comepetent in a certain range of skills," and concludes, ". . .so the players damn well better spend the points on all those skills so they don't hold up the game!"

This is bizarre to me. Am I alone? Obviously we're dealing with a difference in design philosophy, but I'm pretty mystified as to the "why" of the philosophy in question. I got pretty excited as I read through the piece, going to myself "Hells yeah! It'd so totally ROCK to have a game where this level of 'bare minimum badassery' was coded into the system, and the stuff you spent points on would be raising you above 'bare minimum badassery' into the heigths of Fucking Legendary Badassery (TM)." Then Sean let the wind out of my sails with his "'C'mon, GMs, make sure your players spend their points to reach that bare minimum!" If that level of competence in areas X Y and Z is really necessary for a fun game, why not have the abilities start there? What's the fun of making players spend points to attain the minimum level for fun?

I guess maybe GURPS isn't really set up to address this sort of thing. It's designed around spending points for every aspect of your character. Still, As I read the thing I had the idea that Sean was leading up to some sort of template system, like "Hey, to play Adventure Heroes, give your players this set of base proficiencies and let 'em spend points from there." Wouldn't be hard, would it?

So how do other games address this issue? Well, Heroquest has the "No Self-respecting Hero" clause; basically if a task is something "no self-respecting hero would fail at," then you succeed, no problem. Exactly what qualifies is left vague, but I think that's design; it lets a group tailor it to their own preferences and the needs of a situation.

The old WEG Star Wars handles this in exactly the way I was porposing for GURPS: with Templates. You get to pick a ready-made model of a character type with baseline competency for that archtype built in, and spend points upward from there. A great quick-starter, and little chance for nasty surprises mid-game, like "whaddya mean I only have 3 D to hit with my blaster?! I wanted ta be like Han Solo!" Sure, some templates are weaker/less combatative than others, but presumably you know when you picked "Diplomat" or "Protocol Droid" that you were't gonna be the Fastest Draw in the Galaxy or a whirlwind of Lightsaber death.

Speaking of Star Wars, I really like what SAGA edition is doing with their skills:

This bit of design philosophy is especially relevant to the issue at hand:

Anyone can do anything in Star Wars if the scene calls for it. For example, over the course of the saga, we see Obi-Wan Kenobi fly ships, deceive people, perform amazing acrobatics, use diplomacy, ride animals, command troops, get information from his contacts on the street, and more. Similarly, Han Solo can fast talk, run, shoot, fly the Millennium Falcon in circles around Star Destroyers, hot-wire doors, lead troops, formulate plans, ride a tauntaun, and use other skills seemingly at will. The new skill system simulates this extremely well. Obi-Wan and Han might not be trained in all the relevant skills, but their untrained bonus allows them to attempt those actions with some chance of success.

In the Saga system, everyone has a basic competency in all skills, which scales up with level. That way nobody has to worry about coming off like Greedo when they wanted to be Han. And it lets you save your skill picks for the stuff you want to be really good in, spending feats on top of that to be fucking Legendary. It's perfect for Star Wars, and I'd wager it's a good fit for any gaming paradigm that assumes a lot of fun, rollicking action.

Why make the players "work at it" (know the right skills, spend the points) to be decent?* I'm seriously wondering. Is there a good reason in terms of game fun for Sean Punch's method? And what do y'all think of the alternate philosophy?


*Yes, there may be times when you want to run an "ordinary folks" type game of unheroic types, but I'd argue that this is a special case (and solvable by simply yanking out the "base cometency" rug).

Design, Development, and Gameplay / Melinglian Syncretism, Part One!
« on: April 12, 2007, 08:31:06 pm »
OK, OK, I'll stop calling it that. :p

Anyway, in my introductory thread, Jimbob posed some interesting questions that I thought merited a whole thread, so it seems I already have a first topic for my new theory endeavor!

Quote from: JimBobOz
Why is it not the best thing to try to accomodate everyone's preferences in a sort of stew?

In principle, it seems like the result could be a bit crapy and bland, and that we'd just end up with each player impatiently waiting for the other player to finish having their fun, so the next player can have a go. "I put up with you being a combat wombat, and you put up with me being a thespian."

In practice, there's a thing that used to be called "sympathy", not the modern sense of the word, of just feeling their suffering, but the old sense - of feeling all their feelings, that human fellow-feeling. So even if I'm not a combat wombat, when I see Jim woop and cheer when she rolls a critical success on a head shot, or even if I'm not a thespian, when I see Bob smile happily as his character is faced with the choice of which child to give up to the Nazis, even though I don't share their tastes, I share their joy - it makes me happy to see the people in my game group happy.

Compromise doesn't look so bad when you enjoy seeing other people happy. And most of us do.

So I don't see why it's a bad thing to try to accomodate the different tastes of different people in the group. I can see that it's sometimes a hard thing to do - easier if everyone likes the same thing - but I can't see why it's inherently bad.

I see what you're saying, Jim, I read your "sympathy" post from awhile back with some interest. This is a good example, though, of why I want to stir all these elements and approaches into one big Gumbo. I think Adam Smith's sympathy (heh, I almost typed Adam West) gets at something important for gaming groups, but I don't know if it's the whole story. Everyone in a group operating in full Sympathy with one another is the ideal, but there are factors that can undermine it. For instance, if someone introduces an element into the game that is really jarring or distasteful for me, it can cause strain on our otherwise smooth sympathy. (Like, we're all mutually cool on Ninjas and Pirates and Robots, but, say, Stripperninjas really blow things for me.) So we need to look at how to iron that out, either eliminating elements that unduly strain sympathy or finding a way that we can all be cool with the element.

Or (and I think this is fairly common), there can be an Illusion of Sympathy at the outset because we figure we all mean the same things by "roleplaying," "fantasy," "dark," "fun," etc. So when something breaks that sympathy ("What, my character Ripdeathkillclaw is dark! You said dark!") it's both unexpected and awkward, causing either argument or unspoken dissatisfaction/eyerolling. So, it's good to have preferences and play goals above board and on the table, to avoid these jarring moments and minimize their impact when they do inevitably appear.

Here's where I feel it's useful to examine multiple perspectives together, since working out what people want out of their gaming and why can inform your examination of Sympathy, and figure out what to do about a Sympathy-irritant, by examinging, for a start, where it comes from.

The ideal solution for a given group may be accommodating everyone's preferences. Or it may involve some sort of compromise. Or it may mean one or more members leaving> Or a whole lot of other possibilities.

I don't have a lot of answers yet, but I'm not willing to rule out any of these possibilities so far.



Design, Development, and Gameplay / Theory a la Carte
« on: April 10, 2007, 08:54:12 pm »
"Come up with something new," Jombob says. OK, here goes (at least this is all off the top of my head. I reserve the right to be influenced by stuff).


OK, what is RPG theory? Well, that's the tricky thing, isn't it? RPG theory is a lot of different things to different people. "It's all about the people, the game is secondary!" "It's all about understanding the Creative Agendas people pursue!" "It's all about Morgenstern and Neumann's Game Theory!" "It's all about dice mechanics and probability curves!"

Well, let me state straight up that I'm not concerned with which of these is properly called "Theory," the distinction between "Theory" and "Craft," or any such thing. The fact is that "RPG Theory," rightly or wrongly, has come to mean "stuff used to analyze and improve on our roleplaying experience," and it's that which interests me, whatever it's called.

And let me also state straight-up that I think all the above, plus a good many more, are fit and useful fields of inquiry for understanding our games. In a perfect world they wouldn't be battle-lines, but complementary subjects that would enrich and aid each other. "Oh, that social problem you observed? Looks like it could be at least partially rooted in this clash of creative agendas." [not necessarily as codified by the Forge] "Hey, that creative agenda [again, not Forge-approved] you're after? Well here's a probability curve that would probably yield the results you're looking for." In a perfect world.

Where I'm coming from in all this: I've roleplayed for a lot of years and rarely felt really satisfied. I went through a lot of those years fuming and grousing about all the badwrong ways that players around me were approaching gaming, and wondering why they didn't (through mental telepathy, presumably) simply know, and respect (IE convert to) my style of gaming. After all, it was the right way, so they should've known.

Well, fuck that. The first step is to recognize that their gaming preferences are just as valid as mine, even if I can't stand them. Some of 'em probably wouldn't be able to stand a game run purely on MY preferences, either. It's not prima facie a case of victims vs. dicks (though dickery CAN surely play a role).

The second step is to recognize that the solution, or at least the optimal one, is not to just mash everyone's preferences together and try to accommodate 'em all. But then, neither is it necessarily best to part ways if you're not a perfect match. It's a balance each group has to find. But it's a false dilemma to assume those are your two choices. "Stuff used to analyze and improve on our roleplaying experience," (AKA Theory) is useful for exploring options in between these two extremes, though an individual may of course determine that Extreme 1 or Extreme 2 is the choice for them.

So what's my new thing? I dunno, maybe just a pick-and-choose approach at first, considering all these insights as potentially equally useful. Like, I could look at something from the Forge and go, "well, I think much of it is crap, and this bit is overstated, but there is one truth here that I can use," and then I could take it over to, say, Jimbob's Cheetoist observations about social behavior, and see how the two truths inform each other. It may seem a small thing, but I think such an attitude adjustment is vital to even begin to construct something useful, especially to have dialogue about it in an environment with a wide disparity of viewpoints.

So my proposal--you can call it "Melinglian Syncretism" or something if you like ;) , is to begin, in earnest (schedule permitting) to examine different insights from different disciplines/schools of thought/etc to see how they fit together and how they useful they can be to as many people as possible. I propose to do this without Forge Jargon, expressing concepts in plain English and seeking agreement or understanding of those concepts, not how they're expressed or the identiy politics associated with them. I could reserve the right to say, "over on the Forge they call this Blahblahblah," but I'm not sure that even that is wise or necessary.

Oh yeah, and observations based on actual play would be important too. Dissecting a gaming incident from a multitude of perspectives is probably the most fruitful way to approach this.

So there we go. That's all I have time for right now, and I've got a lot of reading to do (Game Theory, Cheetosism, etc), but when I've ruminated and have more specific, I'll be back.


Yeah, that got you reading. :D

The rather fatuous title will become clear in due time. Meanwhile:

I played Capes with some friends the other night. It was my first time using the full rules (I played once before with the free demo rules), and there were some hiccups and hurdles (heh, that should be a game title), but overall it went well and was fun.

Our group was:

April, who I'd met and gamed with once before
Gabe, ditto
Joel (yes, another one), a friend and former coworker who I've discussed RPGs with but never gamed with.
Mark, who I'd never met but corresponded with a bit online,
and me.

I passed out the Click 'n Lock modules that you make characters out of, and while folks persused them we talked about what kind of story we wanted to tell. Mark said he'd prefer to play more gritty, street-level game without cosmic or godlike characters. Everyone was pretty cool with that, except that Gabe had already put together a "Godling Outsider." :p But we tooled things so they were pretty down to earth while still accommodating the Godling.

Once everyone had made a main character (3 heroes, 1 ambiguous, 1 "villain with a righteous cause"), we talked about supporting casts and their relations to the issues the heroes struggle with. We expanded our character stable to about 9 characters and were ready to play.

*          *          *

OK, it's by no means certain around here that everyone is familiar with Capes rules, so lemme give a brief overview: the game's GMless, everyone plays a character, with procedural restrictions on your authority over "what happens." You lay out goals, like "stop the robbery" or "kidnap Aunt May", then the PCs use abilities to sway the conflict in their favor. You name a power or personality trait on your sheet, narrate how the character is using it and their related actions/dialogue, and roll a die on the appropriate side of the conflict. The only narrative constraint is that you can't narrate anything that resolves a conflict until it's actually time to resolve a conflict (there's a phase for declaring which conflicts will resolve that turn). So you can web up, say, a robber, but not stop the whole robbery until it's time.

The game's overarching theme is, "Do you deserve your power?" so as you use your powers, you accumulate Debt. Too much and you're crippled with doubts, penalizing your side of the conflicts each turn. but you can stake your debt on a conflict, gambling that you can win it--win and it's gone, but lose and it comes back double. Nothing is
completely good or bad in this game though, since staked Debt can be used to get your side up higher, and even if you lose the conflict, the winner's staked Debt becomes Story Tokens that you can spend on extra actions and stuff. It's a whole, neat little economy.

So that said, on to play!

*          *          *

We had worked out that both April and Mark's heroes had gained powers from an accident at a hi-tech lab, involving a rock from outer space. Gabe's Godling is a powerful but infant being born of the alien material, who is trying to observe and understand humanity, possibly to judge it. For the first scene, April and Mark played their heroes in civilian guise. April's is the Vanisher, a lab scientist who gained Teleportation, and Mark's was a construction worker named Reggie (AKA the Spoiler) brought in for cleanup and exposed to the alien material to become a shape-shifter. I played the maverick crusading populist Senator Nelson, touring the plant to get to the bottom of Blastech's poor worker safety and heedless environmental waste, and bring the truth to the people. Gabe played Mr Bishop, the CEO of Blastech, also visiting to get to the bottom of the accident, but keep the truth from the public. Joel G. took up scientist Trudy Troy, the love interest of his own hero, who knows more than she's telling about the accident.

I threw down the goal "Senator Nelson uncovers hard evidence" and we fought over that a bit. When the Senator discovered Reggie covered in glowing dust and complaining that he "don't feel so good" in his best Brooklyn accent, he knew he was on to something. ;) Once all the chars were at the cleanup site arguing, Gabe added "escort the Senator off the premises" for Mr. Bishop, and Mark played "humiliate Mr. Bishop" for Reggie. Gabe rolled a lot of 1s (seriously, a lot), and Mr. Bishop lost on all counts.

This scene, though fun on its own merits, was a slow starter because there wasn't a lot of power use, so folks didn't generate much debt and the "economy" didn't kick start. The two heroes were keeping their abilities on the downlow; Jennifer (the Vanisher) conveniently teleported a piece of evidence in the Senator Nelson's path, and Reggie subtly stretched his leg to trip Mr. Bishop into the glowing gunk, but that was it. Not a lot of ammunition (resource-wise, plot-wise there was plenty) for next scene, but oh well.

After Mr. Bishop stormed out covered in space-dust, he phoned in the elevator and called a hit out on both Jennifer and Reggie.

For the Second scene, April and Mark stuck with Jen and Reg. I switched to my villian, the Bengal--a hunter of the Urban Jungle, crusader against the decadence modern society and technology; a kind of Kraven cum Ra's Al Ghul. Joel G. switched to his hero, Mr. Swiss Army, a young and impulsive gadgeteer who's sweet on Trudy. And Gabe took up his Godling, called the Watcher as he hovers over the city, observing (that makes three PCs that share names with Marvel chars, including the Bengal :D).

This scene was a bit more punch. We were playing the assassination attempt on Jennifer. We hit a snag 'cause nobody was playing the assassin--not necessarily a problem, we could just all narrate in the assassin's actions, only it meant that there was NO character with a vested interest in rolling against the "stop the assassination" goal. Crap. We backed up and reconsidered. . .I had figured the Bengal could't be the assassin since he's no corporate hitman, until April made the sensible suggestion that he could be duped into it. Duh! So a little retconning and away we went. The Bengal accosts Jen, the Watcher swoops down at super-speed and grabs him (creating a sonic boom that blows out the block's windows), demanding to know why he accosts the weak and defenseless. The bengal spouts his "corrupt-scientists-destroying-the world" jive while Jen claims she's a victim of the evil science. This is played as "Event: the Watcher passes Judgment on the Bengal." I was pushing for simply "The Watcher Renders Judgment," so that the winer of the conflict could determine who or what gets judged. But After a bit of debate I let it go so as to let Gabe decide his own action and not be too controlling.

Reggie is in action with the goal "protect innocents from harm," as a car with its windshield shattered is skidding toward a helpless kid. He makes his body big and tough and shoulders the car; meanwhile the Vanisher teleports the kid to safety. By the time Mr. Swiss Army, originally intending to stop the Bengal, charges into the action, it's looking like the Watcher is the dangerous one, so he whips out an energy drain gizmo and snares the Watcher in it.

I won control of "the Watcher Judges," April of "stop assassination," Joel G. of "Impress girlfriend," and Mark of "protect the innocent." The kid was pretty much saved, so Mark just narrated the aftermath dialogue. For my conflict, I got to have the Bengal turn the tables on the Watcher, showing how he's the one who acts without thinking and brings innocents to harm. The saddened bewildered Watcher said he had "much to think about," escaped his energy snare, and departed. For Stop Assassination, the Bengal realized through the Vanisher's words and actions that he had misjudged her, and wished to learn more of the true forces behind it all. And trudy was duly impressed by Mr. SA's genius and took him more into her confidence about her secret projects.

*          *          *

Reactions and feedback were pretty positive all around. Mark had said in email that he wasn't sure how a GMless game could work, but he seemed to take to it quite easily. Joel G. said he liked that there was both humor and serious themes, and the two intermingled well and didn't hamper each other. April commented that there was a bit of a learning curve on some mechanics, but once she got the concepts it was smooth sailing. (I didn't help with that, since a couple times in Scene 1 I forgot a key rule and had to go back and fix it.) Everyone said that they liked the resolution system and how it faciliitates cool story while allowing a lot of freedom. Mark particularly was excited about the resolution and the creative freedom it allowed, contrasting it favorably with the Burning Wheel demo he'd just played in, which he found disappointing and full of "determinstic" systems. (Hence the title of the thread. Yeah, that's all there is too it. :p) We were a bit sad to have to quit actually, just when the story was getting interesting, and plan to get together soon and continue our little saga.

issues with play: to start with, there was the problem I already mentioned that the "Dept economy didn't really get revved up, since we were playing mostly non-powered characters, or people not using their powers. I think we were just hitting stride on that when we had to quit, actually.

Also, the idea that for GMless play people can just take up bit parts when needed works great, but the whole balance issue of "Everyone gets one character by which to influence the outcome of conflicts" (unless they spend tokens to play more) clashed with the "bit parts played by whoever" Specifically, Mark tended to grab up incidental parts and act them out, which was fine, but then he also wanted those bit parts to roll on conflicts. I had to put my foot down a bit and explain diplomatically that you need to pay in story tokens for the right to have multiple characters and thus more influence over the story. (This was during our "Oh shit, nobody's playuing the assassin!" moment, before we decided, "wait. . .the Bengal IS the assassin!") It all smoothed over OK. Mark didn't mean any harm, he was just being enthusiastic. :)

Another thing--I felt kinda bad for Gabe. He really tried his damnedest on all his conflicts, but the Dice Gods were simoply not with him. He lost everything he was involved in. He did reap some story tokens for his efforts (only a couple, since we didn't get the Debt flying until late), but it'd be nice for the guy to catch a break. He was a good sport about it though, and said he had fun.

All in all, it was a pretty fun "comic," a la Marvel Team-up. Can't wait for the next issue!


Pretty straightforward: what games are you not playing right now for whatever reasons, that you would be, "if there were world enough, and time"?

List as many as you like; I thought of five:

1) Dogs in the Vineyard
2) Heroquest
3) Marvel Super-Heroes, Advanced set
4) Star Wars D6
5) Shadows of Yesterday

Why I want to/why I'm not:

1) Dying to try it, raise-see looks fun, moral delimmas cool/plenty of interest from friends, local store owner open to hosting a demo, just haven't carved the time out yet to DO it.

2) Resolution system elegant, means of modeling things cool, looks like the perfect system to run a Middle Earth game in/need to finish up my OtE campaign before I can start GMing a new game for my regular group.

3) Just recently discovered the online PDFs, looks like it could support way cooler Classic-marvel play than we got from it as kids/Again, no time, plus a harder sell to a lot of friends and book availability problems.

4) Always wanted to try the system, some folks here have spoken highly of it, using 1s on the Wild Die for plot complications sounds nice and Star Wars-y/Picked up a used copy, probably have a ready audience if I wanted, but again, no time

5) Key (I.E. character motivation)-based experience looks like a way cool way to play Fantasy Roleplaying/no time, haven't really even shopped this one around much as it's last in line.

So there ya go.


PS Oh, Hon. mention Paranoia (any edition). Spent years peeking at Paranoia books, but never got to play. Looks like roaring fun!

I DMed a session of D&D for the first time the other night. it was pretty fun!

My new roommate had never roleplayed and was very interested. He pwas pretty dead-set on trying D&D, since that's the game he'd heard so much about. So I got myself a full complement of 3.5 corebooks, asked around for other players, and this week we got things rolling.

Ironically enough, my roommate wasn't able to make it to the first session. We all (myself and 5 players) had a initial discussion and chargen meeting, and decided to get together in a couple of days to do some actual playing while things were still fresh. It turned out that Scotty (my RM ) just couldn't make it on that day of the week.

So we ran with who we had on hand, which turned out to be three players; one other guy (Tommy, a 16-year-old who's played before) waas supposed to be coming, and never showed. What we did have was:

Erik, veteran D&Der who I've played with in the past, playing a Half-elf Monk.

Shirley, who's never played before, playing a Half-elf Druid.

Eriks (that's right, no typo; it's Latvian), Shirley's boyfriend who played a freeform D&Dish thing at a camp or something some years back. He's got a Gnome Sorceror/Rogue.

We're starting at level "2 1/2", I.E. halfway to level 3, so as to let the new players wet their feet before they pick their level 3 Feat.


We had a freewheeling good time, a lot of character shenanigans and the plot slowly gathering steam. I came into the session with only the vaguest idea what would go down--after the Sunday meeting we established that Erik and Shirley's half-elves were twin brothers, and that Tommy's Elven Bard (a vengeful, piratey type who's moving toward Assassin) was their half-sister. Their mutual father is the Elven-King who was deposed, in part because of his dalliances with Mortals (and resultant offspring). So the bastard children were raised in seclusion (the Druid in a rural elf-village, the Monk in a Human town), and the legitimate Daughter has been in exile training for revenge, and now seeking out her siblings toaid her. Except Tommy never showed. Oh well, next time.

Meantime, we all sort of created an opening narrative by bouncing ideas off each other: "Ok, the Monk is just out of Monk school and looking for his rumored half-brother; is he going to find him in town, or will he have to go hunt in the woods?" "Oh, I could be in town." "All right, your guy's a brewer; how about if he's delivering beer to local taverns and inns?" "OK, cool!"

We had a really fun opening scene where the Monk just out of training goes out for a celebratory drink and gets mistaken for his twin--the guy who delivers beer. Things turned ugly when the bartender realized he did NOt in fact have beer with him--AND had just drunk up the last of the brew they had on hand. There was a fight with bouncers, then a confrontation with a bystander sparked off an all-tavern brawl. Meanwhile, the real brewer arrived and quietly skirted the fight, loading casks into the back room with the barmaid's help. When the barmaid appeared at the bar and shouted "we've got beer!" Everyone stopped in mid-punch and rushed the counter, and the twins got to meet each other.

One thing that was kind of interesting and cool: I hardly had to do any work; the players all shouted out ideas and I ran with the good ones, which was pretty much all of them. The mistaken identity, the bouncers, the barmaid breaking up the fight, all player input. My favorite bit was when Shirley asked, "are they about ready to kill him for not having the beer?" I answered, "not quite yet," and she said with an evil grin, "I'll wait to arrive until they are."

Meanwhile, Eriks' little Gnome lass (Eriks, Shirley and Tommy all rolled randomly for gender, and all rolled opposite their real ones) was originally going to be in the bar pulling pranks on the patrons, but he got a better idea--he waited until the commotion had died down and the two PCs were in the middle of their "meet and compare notes" schtick--then tried to ride Shirley's goat. The goat was the Druid's animal companion, hitched to the beercart outside. Incidentally, Eriks' description was "Trying very unsuccessfully to ride the goat." I had him make a Handle Animal roll, which with no skill ranks he failed easily--which was exactly wat he wanted anyway, so he was overjoyed. It occurred to me I could have just let him fail. :)

So the PCs all met and teamed up, and decided to journey to the Druid's village to learn more about their shared heritage. Once in the Elven woods they fought off a pair of hunting wolves, which I emphasized were kind of odd to be attacking human(oids). i had noted to Shirley that the forest life had been agitated and restless of late, and when her Druid made an Animal Empathy check to calm the wolves, she rolled low and failed--so I described how the Wolves' minds were overcome with aggression and expelled her spirit.

After the fight, I noted (Shirley had already stated that her Druid is loathe to kill animals) that the Wolves weren't dead, just dying, and could still be saved. Shirley said it was sad for them to die, but this time she was too tired to deal with it. She seemed to mean, though, that she herself was too tired--she'd had a long and hard day, it was about time to end the session, and she announced she was going to bed, and immediately did so. So I'll probably give her another chance when we reconvene, since the story hasn't progressed any.

A couple of notes on my techniques:

One, I designed several encounters as a kind of "bandolier" of potential challenges. Partly this is 'cause my MM hasn't arrived yet, so I had to access the SRD online and copy down the info. And partly 'cause I didn't know what direction things were going in, so I needed to be ready for encounters in several different environments, for varied possible party strengths (depending on who showed up). I think I like working this way. It's essentially the way I GM Over the Edge, except in that game I don't really need to prep statblocks.

Two, I started drawing a map. It was just a basic doodle, like "OK, there's Dwarven Mountains here, and Elven forest here, here's humans and here's Orcs." But as I flesh out the thing, all kinds of little details become apparent, like: "OK, the united front of the Dwarves and Elves keep the humans protected from Orc raids, but they're too shortsighted and proud to realize it. And the Elven usurpation could upset that balance thusly. . ." I'm having loads of fun designing the world organically this way; I just have to be careful I don't end up elaborating too far beyond the point where it's useful and relevant to the actual players and characters.

Lastly, there were a couple of issues that cropped up that I'm scratching my head over:

When I gave out the EXP at the end, I tried to go pretty much by the book. The wolves were easy--CR2 divided three ways. However, the barfight was trickier. I awarded Erik 300 for besting a CR 1 challenge (2 level 1 warriors, AKA the bouncers, CR 1/2), but then felt bad because Shirley and Eriks didn't get anything, even though they both contributed equally to making the scene enjoyable. In fact, most of the cool p-lot ideaswere Shirley's. I gave them both a "Roleplaying award," but the DM guide says to keep those to 50 points a session, which still felt like a gyp. I feel like Eriks and Shirl got the shaft merely because they stayed out of a fight they had no strong IC reason to join. Leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

It has occurred to me that I could reasonably justify including Shirley in the encounter, and her circumventing the fight and providing the beer that ended it could constitute beating the "challenge." Which still leaves Eriks out, but that's not so bad; he chose to do his own thing and not get involved at all. The question is, where do I draw the line? If a player chooses not to life a finger ina given struggle, do I include them anyway because they were there and "choosing not to fight is also a solution?" Seems like a shaky standard to me. "EX no matter what" (bar losing, of course) encourages sucky passivity, but going hardline "no fight, no EXP" sidelines a lot of cool input.

Any thoughts?

The other issue is Action points. Erik brought his Ebberon book and I took a peek; I decided (and Erik and Eriks both agree) that AP would be a cool addition to the game. However, it looks like Ebberon AP are only awarded as a flat "so many per level" bonus. I'd like to make them more special, earnable by certain actions, but Ican't come up with anything less arbitrary than "when I think you deserver one," which is the kind of standard I'd like to avoid. Anyone know of any alternate means of generating them?

Thanks for your time. I'm working hard on making this experience of D&D and roleplaying in general enjoyable for new and old players alike.


Apologies if this is too rambly, it's late and I'm tired. In any case, I've got some thoughts kickin' around in my head lately; I wanna see what y'all think. It boils down to this: regardless of playstyles or agendas or "Adventure" vs "Thematic" or whatever else, it is important top roleplaying that the mechanical actions of the game correlate clearly to events in the game fiction. In other words, when the game rules tell me "roll 2D6 to attack and match it to your Combat Value," it sould be clear to me and everyone else at the table that this translates to "Ichiro assumes his stance to gather chi, then thrusts his two fingers forward with a cry of 'Storm Wolf Bolt!' calling lightning down upon his foe." Or, whatever.

Now, this relationship between mechanics and description can be backed up by the rules or managed purely by the players (mostly GM, I'd say). A lot of mech-desc relationships are simple on the surface: "I attack." "OK, roll to attack." But there can be subtle difficulties. I'ts probably pretty rare that a mechanical operation has no correlation to a fictional happening of the game; the potential breakdown is in confusion over just what the correlation is. Sometimes this is just confusion over what conventions hpld sway within a particular group. . .but in my experience often this comes about from an assumption that we all know the way to do it, because it's the way. . .how else would you do it? So I think it's useful to examine.

So, looking at some games and how they handle this for common actions. . .the first systems that come to mind are relatively simple ones like Over the Edge and BESM, where there's not a lot of granularity to the rules for different types of "actions," so little chance of screw-up--it just leaves you to do all the describing without any ruleset's help. You just say "I'm doin' [whatever]" and work out what trait or stat or skill to roll, and go for it.

D&D is somewhat similar in this regard, but its subsystems, notably combat, are a bit trickier. BESM and even OtE also have combat subsystems, but relatively simple ones. D&D, otoh, is at its grainiest in combat. There are numerous abstractions that are hard to make sense of, HP being foremost among them. Does HP represent pure toughness and resilience vs. actual wounds, or a general ability to not get hit or seriously hurt? Technically I believe it's the latter, but then confusion arises since each successful attack roll is supposed to be a "hit" bypassing dexterity and armor and all. So how many D&D hits are "real" hits in terms of what's happening to the fictional guys? If you start imagining your guy getting brutally wounded with a sword every time you take a "hit," the fiction quickly derails. I had a situation once where my char was fleeing on horseback from mounted archers. As I tried to lose 'em in the forest, I was taking arrow hits, and the DM wanted to describe each arrow "hit," where it had struck me and how it was impeding movement. I was just like, "I've got 60 HP; if we treat every attack as a literal hit, it'll take over 20 arrows to kill me." (And yes, both OtE and BESM have HP, and are not immune to some of the problems that go with it. I think D&D has it a bit rougher though, 'cause of its ever-increasing HP total. In the other two, anything but fisticuffs is gonna cut you down to size pretty quickly.)

It gets hairier with wierder circumstances. Once I was fighting some acidic slime monster, and it shot out and engulfed me, trapping me inside its body. The DM (a different one) had me make swim checks, taking damage each round, until I could make the difficulty and swim free. And then, after I'd taken like three rounds of acid damage, the DM declared that I had "burned the top layer of my skin off" and was otherwise fine. I chose to play it up as if I was horribly disfigured and in pain until our druid healed me. And that's a pretty simple case. Alignment? How do you bring that into the fiction without being just plain nonsensical? (my brother handled this well the other night--when a Chaotic Evil PC complained that his cleric's Holy Smite hurt him, he responded, "you should lead a more virtuous life.":hehe: ) A Vampire's level drain? How the hell do you describe that happening to the characters?

Now, I'm not picking on D&D; I see most of these issues in my actual experience as stemming more from confusion in actual practice, than from anything the rules actually tell you to do. In the examples above, some stuff I know isn't by the book, and I'd bet a lot of other stuff too. But in many of the cases where this has come up the DM (and/or players) just seemed to assume that this was the way to do it, clear and known to everyone.

I'd suggest that D&D appears to have some occasionally problematic elements for matching mechanics to fiction. They're not necessarily insurmountable, but they require a group consensus on what this or that mechanical thing means in the story. I've rarely found that consensus to be clear by any means; either play proceeds with incompatible or at least dissonant assumptions about this (note: not necessarily unfun, just. . .suboptimal), or actions are called and resolved with little or no description of what's actually happening in the game fiction.

If we move out toward the wild frontiers of gaming, a game like Capes handles this by placing the whole shebang in the players' hands--"narrate anything you want happening." But it both constrains and enables you by adding ". . .at this time related to this conflict and evoking this ability." So you know what context you're describing the action in, and what ability your char is drawing from to take his action, and the sky's the limit from there. Dogs is similar, except that you've got a stricter structure for playing out conflicts, still matching narration to the dice--puttin' up a big raise? Describe a broad, dramatic action. Puttin' up a piddly one? Describe understated action or a weak effort. Heroquest does these systems one better by having a huge list of traits, from Trained With the Blade to Brave to I Will Always Come For You, Buttercup, and you can pick and choose off your menu to put together your action: "Handy With a Blaster" plus "Quick Draw" plus "Don't Trust Lando" plus "Hate the Empire" = "I draw my blaster and let off a wad of shots the instant I lay eyes on Vader!" All these systems have an advantage to my mind, that their mechanics work with narration, letting you set up exactly how you want your guy to be and plug that right into the actual resolution, with little chance for any "huh?" moments.

That said, the one spot where Dogs seems to get wonky to me is in Fallout. Granted, I haven't played, so maybe in practice it works out OK, but. . .I don't get how Fallout rolls are supposed to work into the narration, since you roll fallout after the conflict, even if you take the blow in the middle. I can see for, say, brawling, just plowing ahead on adrenaline, and not noticing how hurt you are till the dust settls. But if I, say, get shot in the face, and then keep going until the ned of the conflict, how do I work the bullet wound intothe narration? I mean, with fallout for guns on a max Fallout roll you die instantly. So how did I stick through the whole fight?

So, bottom line, it seems to me that confused expectations, communicated poorly or not at all, are at root of the problem, sometimes exacerbated by rulesets that have some poor mech-desc connections. Please bear in mind that all of this is IMHO, IME, etc. and I'm not claiming any universality. In fact, let me know if this does or doesn't match with experience? Is this an issue for anyone else? Is my analysis on track? Is this worth exploring or hopelessly wrongheaded, or a no-brainer non-issue?


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